Tennessee football to hire Rodney Garner as defensive line coach, per report

Blake Toppmeyer
Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee's football staff has a defensive assistant, even if it doesn't yet have a defensive coordinator.

The Vols are adding Rodney Garner as its defensive line coach, Yahoo Sports reported Thursday, citing sources.

He's the first defensive staff hire by coach Josh Heupel, whose search for a defensive coordinator has stretched beyond two weeks. 

Garner, an Auburn alumnus, has spent his coaching career within the SEC. Most recently, he coached Auburn's defensive line for eight seasons until Gus Malzahn’s staff was ousted in the wake of his December firing.

Garner had a 15-year stint at Georgia, and he coached at Tennessee from 1996-97.

Heupel's offensive staff is complete. He's added tight ends coach Alex Golesh, offensive line coach Glen Elarbee, quarterbacks coach Joey Halzle and wide receivers coach Kodi Burns from his final Central Florida staff, and reportedly will hire Jerry Mack as running backs coach. Mack had been Rice's offensive coordinator the past three seasons. Previously, the Memphis native was North Carolina Central's head coach for four seasons, compiling a 31-15 record at the Football Championship Subdivision school.

Tennessee has not announced any assistant coaching hires.

Additionally, Kevin Steele remains as a defensive assistant whom Heupel inherited. Tennessee hired Steele on Jan. 12, less than a week before coach Jeremy Pruitt was fired, and Steele's future with the program remains unannounced.

Garner is well regarded as a recruiter, especially in Georgia. He's credited by 247Sports as being the primary recruiter of five-star prospects Derrick Brown and Montravius Adams at Auburn and Reshad Jones and Brandon Smith at Georgia. He helped Auburn outduel Tennessee for four-star defensive lineman Jay Hardy out of Chattanooga in the 2020 signing class.

Garner will become an elder statesman on a staff that's thin on SEC experience. A cousin to former Auburn and NBA legend Charles Barkley, Garner has coached on an SEC staff every season since his first stint at Auburn began in 1990.

A Leeds, Alabama, native, Garner earned All-SEC selection as a senior at Auburn.

Garner coached five first-round NFL Draft picks – Richard Seymour, Marcus Stroud, David Pollack, Charles Grant and Johnathan Sullivan – during his tenure at Georgia.

Tennessee's most important assistant coaching position, its defensive coordinator, remains vacant. Ohio State linebackers coach Al Washington turned down Tennessee's offer for the job and will remain with the Buckeyes.

The Columbus Dispatch's Bill Rabinowitz contributed to this story.

Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee football. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Current subscribers can click here to join Blake's subscriber-only text group offering updates and analysis on Vols football.